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All eyes on IndyCar but NASCAR, F1 to race this weekend too

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

IndyCar season ends Sunday and four drivers are still in contention to win the championship

The IndyCar season wraps up Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway in California – double points! – and F1 and NASCAR Cup are both on the home stretch, Let’s take a look at each, starting with NASCAR.

The Cup series will be racing at the less-than-a-mile Richmond Raceway. More than a short track – but just. The race will be the second round of the playoffs and is expected to be the one where the men are separated from the boys. Martin Truex Jr. won the first race last weekend and set himself up as the driver to beat in the 10-race final.

We should hope that Kyle Busch has calmed down after that on-television meltdown last weekend in Las Vegas where he said, several times, that the only reason he was talking to reporters was because otherwise NASCAR would fine him. I think they should fine him anyway. He’s a professional athlete and should know better.

I understand being competitive. But Kyle Busch is no kid and his petulance is tiresome. His employer, Joe Gibbs, stepped in several times to send Tony Stewart to treatment for anger management issues. I don’t know why Gibbs doesn’t refer Busch to a professional who will help him work through some of his issues. To be so obviously over-the-top emotionally upset after losing a race suggests something else is going on with that man and his employer should get him some assistance.

Formula One stops in Singapore this weekend for a night race and it is always a highlight for me because while ancient cities look good in the daytime, they always look so much more romantic and mysterious after dark when some of the iconic structures are lit up by spotlights.

Lewis Hamilton, who has either won or finished second in all of the 14 races held to date with the exception of three – Austria, Germany and Italy – will be looking to step back up on the top step of the podium. And Valtteri Bottas, who just signed yet another one-year contract extension for 2020, will be looking to show Toto Wolff and his Mercedes employers that they made the right decision.

Will Sebastian Vettel try to recapture some of his former glory and win the race, thus showing new team leader Charles Leclerc that he’s still the boss, or will he continue in his funk? And is Leclerc the real deal? There are people out there who maintain that any of the other drivers in F1, and even some currently in Formula 2, could be as successful as Charles if they too were given the car and the resources of Scuderia Ferrari.

And will Max Verstappen finally dig in and show the world he’s everything his potential has advertised him to be? I’m a fan of Max but he’s been in F1 for four years now and he’s only won seven races to date. For a driver with a top team, I say that’s not good enough. He should be taking the fight to Mercedes and Ferrari more than he has.

The F1 race – plus practice and qualifying – will be all over TSN this weekend, beginning Friday morning.

I want to slip something in here about the Pinty’s NASCAR Canada Series. They will be racing at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, N.H., this weekend and then, a week from now, will be winding up the season at Jukasa Motor Speedway out near Hagersville here in Ontario. As usually happens, I suspect the title will still be up for grabs when the final race gets the green flag at the facility once known as Cayuga Speedway.

TSN will carry that final Pinty’s race on tape delay. Check listings for times.

Okay, the NTT IndyCar Series will close out its 2018 season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey. The 17th race will see a champion crowned at the checkers and while pundits say it will be a fight between Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden, I will remind everybody that Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon are still in the running and anybody who bets against Dixon is not an experienced gambler.

As well as the on-track drama, the behind-the-scenes scenario at Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports continues to confuse. Sam Schmidt has said several times in recent weeks that despite the team being renamed Arrow McLaren SP for 2020, not much will change and James Hinchcliffe, for example, will continue to drive for the new-name team.

But since then, the president of Arrow Schmidt Peterson and the PR rep have both left, as did chief engineer Todd Malloy. Things are changing, big-time, at that organization and at the conclusion of the race Sunday, Gil de Ferran will take over as team manager. I suspect there will be many more changes before the 2020 season starts at St. Petersburg.

Activity starts today (Thursday) at Laguna Seca with an open test before practice and qualifying gets under way Friday and Saturday. The race Sunday afternoon will be telecast on NBC (thank goodness).

Going into the weekend, here’s what the drivers all have to say about the race, the series and the season.

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “I’m really excited for the race at Laguna Seca. My guys on the Hitachi Chevy have given me great cars all year which has led to some success. Now, we just need to put everything together to try and finish the season with the championship. Laguna Seca is a track I haven’t raced at before, but we have tested there. It’s definitely going to be a challenge because of that and since there are three other guys still in contention for the championship, along with a bunch of guys looking to win the race. We’ve reviewed our data from the test and all other races this year and feel like we have a great plan headed into the race.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “I’m looking forward to the last round of the season-Laguna Seca. It’s a place that I’ve never been to but I’ll confess that I’ve played a lot of iRacing there and it seems like a pretty cool track. Also Tony (Kanaan) really likes that track, he won there in Indy lights and had good runs in Indy car so it’s good to have a teammate with a lot of experience at that track. I can lean on him and chat about it and get some tips from him.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “I think everyone at Arrow SPM is looking forward to getting to Laguna (Seca). We’ve had some pretty rough luck these last few rounds and everyone wants to head into the offseason off the back of a strong result. It’s a track I love driving, but it’s a bit of an unknown being the first time back there in quite a while, so should be exciting to see how it all shakes out.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “I’m super excited for Laguna Seca, obviously the last race of the season and I want to finish off the season on a high with a good result. The track is one of the nicest on the calendar, so it’s the perfect place to have the season finale. For us as a team, we have some unfinished business for sure. We’ve had some strong pace all year, but haven’t really been able to show it in the results, so why not do that in the last race of the season. It’s obviously important to have a strong race for the future for me personally, so I’m really looking forward to it and think we can have a strong weekend.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Laguna Seca. What’s can you say? It’s a classic American road course and the series is heading back now for the finale which I think many people are excited about obviously. We are an outside shot for the championship but that’s the way it goes sometimes I guess. But I still think we can move up from where we’re at. That’s the focus for this weekend with the PNC Bank car. We’ll try and get the pole, lead the most laps and win the race, and see where we end up. I’m looking forward to a good weekend.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think the rookies have definitely made a statement this year! Having raced all over the planet, I would say that INDYCAR is the toughest beast yet to master for me. I think Colton Herta and I have had similar years where it took off a bit too fast, and then the reality of INDYCAR struck us, and a change of approach was needed. I have definitely calmed down during the year, trying to take what’s there every weekend instead of forcing myself into errors – trying to go for the top spot at any cost. I also think that’s why I’m the leading rookie right now. The speed has been there from the start, but it’s just so much more needed to take the points every weekend. Speed alone will not give you success in this championship! It’s cool that there is a battle going on between Santino (Ferrucci), Colton and I for Laguna. I’ve been on quite a streak on the road courses lately and I feel hungry for that first win, and Laguna would be just the right place to get it done! Being with Chip Ganassi Racing for my rookie season has been more helpful than anything. The team has given me access to everything in order to become ready to win races. I think the field is so tight these days that literally anyone can be fast, but what CGR does differently is getting all the details right, and that’s why they normally come out on top!”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I can’t believe it’s going to be the last race of the season already. It’s been a tough season for the Verizon Chevy team but with a couple of wins, we’re glad we were able to find some success. Without the pressure of being in the championship hunt, we’re going to Laguna Seca just focused on winning another race. My team has worked so hard and I’m so grateful for everything they’ve done. Laguna is a new track for our team but we have a good plan in place and I know they’ve put together a great car for me there that I just can’t wait to race.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “I really like Laguna Seca. It’s a track that I had a lot of success at in the past-I won the Indy Lights championship there in ’97 and had my second podium in Indy car in ’98. The track is very challenging, it has a lot of hills and a lot of blind corners-The Corkscrew is extremely famous for that.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda): “Laguna is tremendous. An awesome track and great region of the world. We couldn’t be more excited to see Indy car racing back on the Monterey Peninsula. I think the season has been filled with some untapped potential. I feel we had some great runs, a lot of top 10s, but we certainly never expected to go through the year without a win, and we aim to make sure that isn’t the case in Laguna. We have made some great gains but I’ve made my mistakes and we have lived up to all our potential at times, so we simply need to finish strong and focus on 2020. Dad was always strong at Laguna, and it definitely has had some good mojo for my family and our team. I am eager to get back on track and see if the things we’ve learned throughout 2019 will help us be very competitive here to end the season on a strong note. We hope that we can combine what we’ve learned on several tracks. We think we have some direction to follow, and I think myself, Takuma (Sato) and all of the engineers are excited to see what we have for Laguna. The Corkscrew is all placement. Do it right, place your car in the right spot and make sure you aim for the right tree on the hillside otherwise it could be an even more exciting ride!”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda): “I’m very much looking forward to going back to Laguna Seca after visiting the track earlier this year. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do as much testing that day with our No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda as we would have liked due to conditions. Fortunately, we have a full test day on Thursday before official practice begins, so that will be beneficial. I think it will help us in our fight for the rookie championship. It’s been a great year but I’m a little sad that it’s already the last race of the season. Hopefully, we can make the best of it and do our best to take home Rookie of the Year honors.”

ED JONES (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet): “I am really looking forward to going back to Laguna Seca. Last time I raced there, I won the championship in Indy Lights so it has a good history for me. Hopefully, we can have a good run and finish the year on a high note. We’d like to make the most of the season finale and have something positive to look back on over the course of the offseason.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): “I only have great memories from Laguna Seca so it’s great to be going back. I won both races and the Indy Lights championship there in 2015. We’ll try to keep that streak of success going this weekend! It’s one of the most famous tracks in the world and driving it in an Indy car is such a thrill. We’ll be working as hard as we can to finish off the season on a positive note for everyone at Ed Carpenter Racing.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “What a season it’s been. We won the Indy 500, and the DXC Technology Chevy team brought home a few more wins along the way. Now it all comes down to the championship race at Laguna. This is my favorite time in racing — it’s crunch time. I love Laguna Seca. It’s a beautiful racetrack where I have done well in the past. Our strategy is very simple — we are going into it, to win it! It’s going to be full attack mode all weekend. The goal is to be the hunted so we can control our destiny. It’s going to be an exciting one with the championship contenders because we’re all going to put everything on the line. I can’t wait!”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Carlin Chevrolet): “After a top-10 result at Portland, I’m excited to get back in the No. 23 Tresiba Carlin Chevrolet with Carlin and Novo Nordisk for the last race of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season. I haven’t raced at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca since 2003, so I’m really looking forward to the challenge of hustling an Indy car through the iconic Corkscrew! I know that the Carlin team had a great test there in February and I’m sure with the momentum the team has we can be fighting for a great result from the first lap.”

CONOR DALY (No. 25 U.S. Air Force Honda): “I couldn’t be more excited to strap into our fighter jet on wheels at Laguna Seca. I had such an incredible time working with the No. 25 Andretti guys in the month of May. We have some unfinished business after the Indy 500 and I know we are all motivated to make the best of the weekend. I’m very thankful for the U.S. Air Force coming on board yet again to support this effort with Andretti Autosport.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda): “It seems like this year has gone by twice as fast as 2018. With that being said, I can’t wait to get back in the car in Monterey and get back to doing what I love one last time in 2019. My last time at Laguna Seca was my final Indy Lights race, as well as my final Indy Lights win. I’d love to make my own history there again in IndyCar with Gainbridge and Group1001.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “The end of the season is finally here and we have an opportunity to come out of Laguna Seca with our first championship. There have been some highs and lows this year, but I am very proud of what the NAPA team has accomplished thus far and we are very motivated to have our best weekend yet. This track was my introduction to motorsports at a young age and to come back 20 plus years later has, in a way, has brought my career full circle.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No 28 DHL Honda): “Although I’ll miss Sonoma after our pole-to-win performance there last year, it’s great to have Laguna Seca back on the INDYCAR schedule. Laguna Seca is one of those iconic tracks that belong on the NTT IndyCar Series calendar. I have some great memories there, most notably winning in Formula Atlantic in 2002 as well as hosting three of our (Racing for Cancer) Race to Beat Cancer events at the venue. We’re also looking forward to seeing all of our partners in attendance and running a new livery in honor of DHL’s 50th Anniversary this year.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 ABeam Honda): “Laguna Seca has a long great history with Indy car and it’s one of the favorite tracks for fans and competitors. There is no question that Monterey is one of most gorgeous places in North America and that region is so fantastic with food, wine and the living culture so I love it. It’s been a great season for us. We have achieved multiple wins, poles and podiums, in particular, the third place at the Indy 500. Certainly, that’s my most successful season in INDYCAR. I would like to give a huge compliment to all of the No. 30 crew and engineers for their fantastic work. They gave me an environment for winning. We will keep working hard to make it happen. We have not been as strong as Barber at other road courses but we showed good speed and potential so I expect to be able to carry good things from Barber to Laguna Seca. We all want to finish the season (on a) high and certainly, it’s mathematically possible for fifth place, which is a great target, but we are just solely focused on the weekend and will race hard to get best possible result, which is no different to other races. Also, one of our loyal sponsors, ABeam, returns as primary sponsor at Laguna Seca for my No. 30 car so I am very much looking forward to having a great weekend. The Corkscrew is amazing. It is so challenging to get it right because simply you cannot see anything due to the massive elevation change! You have to hit the brakes before you see the corner in a never-straight situation and turn-in before you see the apex of the corner so that it’s not a very fast point of the track but you have to be committed a lot. I think Laguna Seca is a great track with a lot of high-speed turns with big elevation changes which makes it very attractive.” (On Bobby Rahal and the team’s history at Laguna Seca:) I think that’s (winning four in a row) an incredible achievement and it will be so tough to repeat that but it’s really great that the team has such great chemistry at Laguna Seca. It’s going to be very challenging to transfer to today’s IndyCar season but I believe we have a great chance to be competitive and we all feel very positive to go there knowing team’s great history there.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): “I’m looking forward to getting back to Laguna Seca and closing out the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season at such an iconic track. We tested there back in February and even though it rained, we had a really productive day of testing for the team. We were definitely one of the fastest cars on track that morning and we were able to learn a lot making us really feel comfortable for the season finale. I just absolutely love this track and I’ve had some solid results with a couple of poles in Indy Lights, so I’m hoping we can use what we learned at the test and my experience here to close out this season with a good result for the entire Carlin team and the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation / SiriusXM Honda): “I’m really excited to head back to Laguna Seca. We had a really solid test there earlier in the year so I’m excited to go back and see what we can do. It was great to have the speed that we had while in Portland and it’s a shame that the race had to end the way that it did. I have put that behind me and am only looking at continuing our progress at the season finale this weekend.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda): “I’m carrying a lot of pride as the No. 88 Capstones Turbine Honda team enters the NTT IndyCar Series finale at Laguna Seca. The Herta name has a high reputation there, so I look to build on that name with another strong performance and hopefully another Herta in victory lane.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “The end of our season has been much stronger than the results have shown and heading into the season finale, a double-points race, it’s really important to myself and the U.S. Concrete team to end 2019 on a high note. We had a decent test at Laguna Seca earlier in the year and the track holds a lot of my family history. It’s an iconic venue and it’s one of [Bryan] Herta’s best tracks from his career, so I have the right guy in my corner this weekend, for sure.”